I spent some time with Dan Arcy from Shell Lubricants a few weeks back at the Technology & Maintenance Council‘s annual meeting, talking about how the concept of “lubricant management” is getting some legs within trucking circles. In essence, lubricant management is about looking at all the engine oils, greases, coolants, and other fluids a trucking fleet uses not so much as individual products but in terms of goals: reduced wear and longer life for engines and components, longer drain intervals to lower overall maintenance costs, etc.
“It‘s more than just looking at products individually - it‘s also about dialing in the services behind them as well, such as oil analysis, benchmarking results against our collective database, etc.,” Arcy told me. “It‘s about getting the whole package.”
Now, obviously, Shell is biased towards this concept, because they see it as a way to secure more of their customer‘s business: for the end result of “lubricant management” should be a fleet going with one supplier for all of their greases, engine oil blends, etc.
Yet if you look beyond that bias for a second, the concept of “lubricant management” does make a lot of sense. Lubricant suppliers are compiling tons of detailed data from individual customers on the performance of various oils, greases, and fluids, adding them to a massive internal database. I can see a lot of benefit for fleets to benchmark their results against those of operations similar to their own. For example, that could help them better determine drain intervals and other details that can help save money over time.
(Dan Arcy, at left, and Jonathan Ubil conduct a demonstration of Shells' Video Check service for engines ... more on that farther down in this entry.)
“We can look at everything in great detail: the impact of engine idle time, stop and go operation versus over-the-road, and other variables,” Arcy said. “We can roll the engine oil, transmission fluid, and other lubricants all into one model and look at performance metrics. We can analyze the whole maintenance impact from this kind of data.”
“Lube Match” is one of Shell‘s newest services in this arena: comparing the lubes used by a particular customer against data gleaned from hundreds of fleets worldwide in similar operations, using a variety of engines. “It takes a lot of the guesswork out when a fleet is looking to change lubricants and engines,” Arcy explained. “And they can also look at a variety of blends, too, from ‘premium‘ down to low-cost products, so they can factor in price as well as lubricant performance in their decision-making process.”
Shell also offers its own unique twist when it comes to engine oil analysis, through its “Video Check” service. Introduced two years ago, Video Check uses a miniature digital camera to inspect the interior components of an engine to spot problems, reducing the need for a costly and time-consuming physical breakdown.
(Shell's Video Check service in action).
The camera is fed into the diesel engine through the cylinder fuel injector port using a fiber optic cable, illuminating the inside of the engine and transmitting the images to a monitor. The service can inspect the piston crown, combustion chamber, cylinder wall, valve seats and head, Jonathan Ubil, one of Shell‘s skilled Video Check operators, told me.
“During routine maintenance, it is virtually impossible to inspect the internal components of an engine to identify damage and prevent failures that can lead to greater expenses,” he said, noting it takes about 20 to 30 minutes too look at an engine this way, versus the many hours needed for a physical inspection. “This is a valuable tool to help identify engine problems and cut down the cost of diesel engine maintenance.”
And it‘s not just about getting a “snapshot” of the fleet‘s engine health, added Arcy. This system can also be used to look at used trucks pre-sale or verify the impact of extended oil drains on pilot test trucks. There‘s many different ways to use this technology to save fleets money when it comes to maintenance, he stressed - again, a service that‘s part of Shell‘s lubricant management package.
“If we can maximize lubricant life across the fleet, then we save them money.” Arcy told me. “And we use all the other tools we have - our laboratories for lubricant analysis, our database, and Video Check, among others - to verify the results they are getting. That‘s what getting the whole package is all about.”